The holiday shopping frenzy extracts much of the joy and excitement out of this season for many people. Parents of special needs kids especially struggle with what gifts to buy and dread that nothing will work out.
When I sit with parents, the emotions are the same for birthdays and holidays. Most parents typically envision their excited child having fun with new toys, yet many parents of children with special needs are confronted with celebrations marred by meltdowns and disappointment.
A thoughtful mother I know learned to be “realistic” now that her son is four. Instead of buying him his “age appropriate” first remote controlled car, she bought him some toys labeled 18 months that he would enjoy. She will enjoy his fun and still hope and work for him to develop further by having fun interacting with the rest of the family.
I know a father who got past his own grief and bought his 16 year old son the Sponge Bob t-shirt his son asked for. These parents have found a measure of acceptance. It takes time, but most people do move toward acceptance. Children with special needs teach their parents and others to cultivate patience and appreciation of what they can do.
Holidays are exciting for all children. The National Lekotek Center is a great resource for accessible play for children with disabilities and their families. You can read their recommendations on the “Top Ten Things to Consider When Buying Toys for Children with Disabilities”.
There are 3 key issues:
- Does the toy fit the child’s developmental age or stage?
- Does it reflect the child’s interests?
- Is there potential for interaction?
As opposed to wishing and pushing for a child to be just like same age peers, this approach encourages acceptance of the child where she is and fosters further development.
More than the new toys, it is their parents’ time and attention that is exciting and wonderful. In the consumer driven rush this holiday season, let’s connect with mind and heart and enjoy time as a family. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “The only true gift is a portion of thyself.”